Warren native imagined the future

Zabrucky’s props filled movie and television screens

John Zabrucky made a career out of imagining the future and bringing it to life on screen.

The pieces the Warren native designed as the founder and president of Modern Props Inc. helped the crew of the Starship Enterprise communicate, kept RoboCop fully charged and helped the Ghostbusters detect supernatural beings. His work can be seen in big-budget hits like “Total Recall” and low-budget space tales like the Roger Corman-produced “Battle Beyond the Stars.”

And because Zabrucky owned the pieces he designed and rented them to the film and television companies, many of his creations made multiple appearances. One futuristic piece of equipment turned up so often that a fan in Belgium created a YouTube video calling it “the most important device in the universe.”

The 1965 Warren G. Harding High School graduate closed his company earlier this year after more than 40 years in business. And his experiences growing up in Warren — not all of them legal — helped cultivate the interest in art and mechanical ingenuity that served him so well in Hollywood.

During a telephone interview from his home in California, Zabrucky said his fascination with all things mechanical came from hanging around M&M Sandwich Shop on Mahoning Avenue NW in Warren and the private club behind it, both owned by his grandfather.

“My grandfather’s place was a major hub of gambling,” Zabrucky said.

He could earn $5 by watching the door for the police when they were playing craps and roulette at the club. Its pinball machines were used as gaming devices, and he loved watching the machines get repaired.

“It was the most fascinating thing I’d ever seen. There were these solenoid electrical fingers, the most beautiful cables of wrapped wire. Everything was so precise, just done beautifully … I’d look down into this rectangle and it was almost like a three-dimensional sculpture, a feast for the eyes.

“It had a certain smell. It probably wasn’t a good smell, but I remember it as a good smell.”

His interest in art goes back as far as he can remember. His traditional


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